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Lockdown hokey cokey sees shop footfall down 40% last year

Paloma Kubiak
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Paloma Kubiak

Retailers were hit hard by the effects of the pandemic last year, as footfall fell by more than 40% amid lockdown restrictions.

Total year-on-year footfall for 2020 fell 43.4% according to UK retail trade association, the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) ShopperTrak data.

In December alone, footfall plunged 46.1%, a 19.3 percentage point improvement from November when England was under lockdown measures.

When it came to high streets, footfall was down nearly 50% – it’s fifth consecutive month of poor performance.

Meanwhile, retail parks suffered a 17.3% decline year-on-year. And shopping centres reported a 47.3% slump in the typically busy period in the run up to Christmas.

Helen Dickinson OBE, chief-executive of British Retail Consortium, said after an encouraging start to the month, Christmas shopper numbers dwindled as December progressed, due to the introduction of Tier 4 in England and increased restrictions elsewhere in the UK.

“High streets and shopping centres continued to see the most substantial decline in shoppers, as their ‘non-essential’ tenants were forced to close their doors during the weeks leading up to and following Christmas. London, the South East and Wales were hardest hit, with footfall dropping by over four fifths in the final week. However, it has been a hard year for the entire country, with footfall down by 43% in 2020 compared to the previous year.”

Dickinson added that now that all parts of the UK are effectively in lockdown and with social distancing measures expected to continue well into the New Year, ‘non-essential’ stores will be unable to trade their way back to recovery.

“A third lockdown will be one too many for some businesses. Rent bills continue to weigh heavily and the threat of a return to full business rates liability in April still looms. The government must urgently reassure those businesses hardest hit by the pandemic that they will receive vital financial support in the form of an extension to the coronavirus business rates relief,” she said.

Andy Sumpter, retail consultant, EMEA of ShopperTrak, added that the new mutated virus really was ‘the strain that stole Christmas’.

He said: “December was a month of two halves, however – before footfall fell away as UK consumers faced the prospect of tougher restrictions, there was an initial recovery in retail footfall in the first two weeks of December, with shopper counts boosted by pent-up demand from November’s lockdown and shoppers’ get-ahead gift buying.  While this soon plummeted in the second half of the month, it at least served to save some valuable Christmas trade.”